If you qualify for a veteran-owned business certification, you should absolutely pursue it. With a VOSB certification, you can gain easier access to a variety of beneficial resources such as federal government grants, loans, contracts, and access to the Veterans Business Outreach Center Program.
As a certified veteran-owned business, you’ll not only benefit from increased government support, but you’ll also build trust and confidence in your brand by demonstrating that you’re not just another entrepreneur—you’re an entrepreneur who sacrificed for your country. But how do you get a veteran-owned business certification in the first place?
Step 1: See if You Qualify
In order for your business to qualify for certification, it has to meet certain criteria.
- At least 51% of the business must be owned by at least one veteran.
- The veteran owner(s) must maintain control over all day-to-day operations, including policy, management, and decision-making. The veteran owner cannot simply be a figurehead.
- The veteran owner(s) must demonstrate the managerial and industry experience necessary to run the business.
- The veteran owner(s) must be the highest-paid employee(s) at the organization—unless there’s a logical reason as to why the company would benefit from the owner(s) receiving lower compensation.
- The veteran owner(s) must have served on active duty with the Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force, or Coast Guard.
- The veteran owner(s) must have been discharged or released for reasons other than dishonorable discharge.
If you’re a small business owner who meets the above qualifications and who has sustained a disability during your time of service, you may also qualify for a service-disabled veteran-owned business certification.
Step 2: Seek Out Financial Guidance
It doesn’t cost much to apply for certification—some programs, in fact, are free. However, financial guidance is still an important part of the process. You need an expert to help determine your eligibility and prepare your documents. The program will need to see that you’re not only a veteran but that your business is in a strong position to succeed.
If you don’t have a controller or CFO, you can use fractional financial services offered by a company like Focused Energy. They can help you compile the necessary data demonstrating the financial viability of your business, thereby getting you one step closer to approval.
Step 3: Gather the Required Documents
Because there are different paths to certification, the required documents may vary. However, there are a few specific documents that are almost always required, so make sure to have these ready:
- Your discharge papers (DD Form 214). Active-duty service members are not eligible for a veteran-owned business certification, so you’ll need to provide documentation demonstrating that you were discharged in good standing.
- Your business license. Your license will demonstrate that you are authorized to conduct business in your state or municipality. Depending on the type of business and the location where it’s registered, you might also have to provide additional documents such as a seller’s permit (or resale license), sales tax license, or industry-specific license (such as a federal transportation or broadcasting license).
- Tax returns. You’ll generally need to provide all business tax returns from the past one to two years to demonstrate the financial stability of your business. You may also be asked to provide financial statements, such as income statements or balance sheets, in order to demonstrate your financial viability.
- Articles of incorporation. You may need to provide copies of your articles of incorporation/organization, outlining the legal structure of your business. In some cases, you’ll also be asked to provide additional documentation demonstrating that you own at least 51% of the business.
Step 4: Choose a Certification Program
There are several organizations that offer veteran-owned business certification. Each organization has its own advantages and drawbacks.
- If you want to compete for national government contracts, you’ll need to apply for a Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB) certification, or Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) certification. This is generally completed through the Vets First Verification Program—a division of Veterans Affairs (VA). The application process is free. You can also apply for your SDVOSB through the Small Business Administration (SBA).
- If you just want your business included on national registers of veteran-owned businesses, you can register as a Certified Veteran’s Business Enterprise (VBE) with the National Veteran Owned Business Association. While you won’t get all of the perks of being VOSB-certified, this is still a great way to attract business from other private organizations.
There are also a number of third-party organizations that can process veteran-owned business certifications. For example, if you’re looking to find private-sector contracts, you can apply as a veteran-owned business through advocacy organizations like the National Veteran Business Development Council (NVBDC) and the National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA).
Step 5: Fill Out the Application
Fill out the application for your chosen certification program. You’ll need to provide information about your business, military service, and eligibility. You’ll also be asked to provide supporting documentation to prove your eligibility. You can submit the application and documents online.
Once you’ve submitted, you’ll need to wait while the certifying program reviews your application and eligibility. If your application is approved, you’ll receive a verification letter or certificate confirming your status as a certified veteran-owned business.
Step 6: Keep Your Certification Up to Date
Depending on the type of certification and the organization that issued it, you’ll have to renew after a set interval of time. For example, if you originally received your certification through the VA, you’ll need to reapply after three years. If you fail to renew on time, your business will likely be removed from government listings. Then you’ll have to reapply from scratch.
Just make sure to read the documentation carefully for whichever program you choose, and follow all of the requirements to the letter. Then you will maintain all of the benefits of your chosen program for as long as your business is in operation.
Apply for Your Certification
You might not see a need to formally apply for a veteran-owned business certification, but once you go through the process, you’ll unlock a wealth of benefits you never realized were available.
Veterans—including service-disabled veterans—employ over 5 million Americans, and you deserve a helping hand as an active contributor to the economy. You’ve already served, so why not take advantage of the perks that are available? It’s just one simple way for the government and the private sector to say, “Thank you for your service.”